Community Forest infractions “embarrassing”

by Andru McCracken


/ RMG File Photo

The McBride Community Forest Corporation (MCFC) is in trouble again for logging practices done in 2015.

“We got another charge from government for inappropriate activities,” said current MCFC manager Gene Runtz in a telephone interview on Monday. “The community forest had cut in a riparian reserve.”

Runtz travelled to Prince George to meet with district officials and present his case, but he didn’t plead innocence on the charge.

In cases like this, the District Manager of the area for the Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resources, John Huybers, has staff investigate the offence and provides the licensee with what is called an ‘opportunity to be heard.’ It’s a bit like a trial, but separate from the court system.

“We share the case file with the accused, schedule a date and both parties have an opportunity to be heard,” said Huybers. “The key point is we want all the facts to be known so both sides can make their case.”

Huybers said the manager makes a case for the actions they have taken.

When Runtz found out about the complaint he asked for time to investigate the case and what had happened in a logging block near Ferguson Hill, west of McBride before the West Twin.

Runtz found logging was done too close to a creek.

“Mistakes happen in the forest; some can be prevented. Others are more challenging to prevent 100% of the time,” – District Manager John Huybers.

He said the creek appeared as though it wouldn’t contain fish despite its size.

”We found a 26-metre-high waterfall, which means fish were certainly not coming up,” he said.

“Trappers had a home there in the middle of nowhere. The guy really liked fish. He had two fish pools right on the edge of this creek.”

The fish still inhabit the area to this day, and that fact, said Runtz, made it impossible to argue that the logging in that area had been inconsequential.

Runtz said the offence happened in 2015, under the jurisdiction of a previous Community Forest Manager and was reported to the authorities by the community forest.

“They logged just a small piece, under one tenth of a hectare,” said Runtz. “They didn’t realize it was in a reserve. It hadn’t been identified properly. It should have been identified.”

For Runtz, the meeting with the District Manager went surprisingly well.

“I figured I was going to catch hell, but they started by thanking us for getting the information,” he said.

“They were trying to be informative and positive. I was embarrassed representing a company that acted that way.”

“The government spent all this money investigating. They were right. The company was wrong not identifying it. The company [the community forest] was wrong. Completely. We’re guilty,” said Runtz.

 “You know, you can’t just rape, pillage and burn. It was just awful,” – Mike Monroe, logger.

Runtz said it will make it the ninth charge that the community forest has been found guilty of. Runtz has received a reprimand from the district before, but said that this case is more serious.

“When you are an RPF, you can expect to get into trouble. Even when you try to do the best, something messes up, but you know what you don’t have is nine charges,” he said.

Runtz said the problem stems from the way the community forest was operating at the time. He said they were doing forestry in a way that hadn’t been done before, a way that many people believed would cause problems long term. Mike Monroe is one of those people.

He and other community members raised red flags about the logging being done by the community forest and its impact on the environment.

“It’s a disgrace,” said Monroe. “I’ve been making a living in the forest industry my whole life and you can’t do things like that. You know, you can’t just rape, pillage and burn. It was just awful,” he said.

District Manager Huybers said the main thing is to prevent environmental damage and inform management practices so the offence doesn’t reoccur.

Huybers said the Province takes action to ensure that any financial benefit accrued to the offender is removed.

“The timber of BC belongs to the people of BC; we need that value returned to the people.”

Huybers said they can also impose a financial penalty.

“It works on the premise that future infractions will result in increased monetary penalties,” he said.

In some cases the penalty is non-monetary.

“Another option is a remediation order. Where we ask them to rehabilitate that habitat, or maybe improve habitat in another spot,” he said.

He said the severity of the penalties take into consideration whether it is a reoccurring offense or a one-off, whether it was self reported or discovered by others.

“Mistakes happen in the forest; some can be prevented. Others are more challenging to prevent 100% of the time,” said Huybers.

Huybers was positive about Runtz’s role at the community forest.

“As far as the management philosophy of MCFC, I notice a change. I think they are trying hard to do better. I have reasonable faith they will. I know Gene is passionate and is trying to do a good job.”

Huybers believes community forests are great opportunities for communities and had high praise for Valemount’s community forest.

“In Valemount we see what can happen when they are well managed,” he said.

“…we logged literally 100’s of areas without incident despite a high level of scrutiny from the public and various regulatory agencies,” – former manager Marc von der Gonna.

Runtz said he understood what the previous manager Marc von der Gonna was trying to do.

“To be fair to him he was trying to do things different, make them simpler and still get the job done.

“He tried to do some things, and not necessarily the way RPFs say you do it,” he said.

But Runtz said he actually warned von der Gonna of the potential for problems.

Former Community Forest manager Marc von der Gonna said he was not at the helm at the time of the infraction.

“I managed MCFC from May 2003 until early August 2015.  During that time we logged literally 100’s of areas without incident despite a high level of scrutiny from the public and various regulatory agencies,” he said.

“In the winter 2010-2011 logging season we had four unfortunate instances that resulted in administrative remedies being levied against MCFC.”

Von der Gonna said the community forest underwent a full scope Forest Practices Board audit that identified four areas of non-compliance and one area of improvement.

“Only one of these issues was an actual field infraction, the other four being solely administrative in nature.  As part of a commitment to continuous improvement we implemented tighter controls on our harvesting operations which included flagging of all block boundaries and field checking all block boundaries in the field prior to harvesting,” von der Gonna said.

Von der Gonna said the infraction occurred after his departure in early August and prior to the appointment of B.A. Blackwell and Associates to manage the community forest.

“I am proud of my achievements during my time as MCFC General Manager and wish Gene Runtz and the current Board of Directors all the best in their endeavors,” he said.

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